filling in the gaps #1

As I know I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m an avid CD collector. I remember in 8th grade I made a conscious decision to obtain as many CDs as I could — at that point in life I had really had no exposure to most music, simply because I had never actually given it much thought as a thing to be enjoyed. On Christmas of that year, my dad gifted me two CDs that changed my outlook and approach to music forever — those being U2’s Achtung Baby and Toad The Wet Sprocket’s P.S. It’s really difficult to overstate the effect these albums have had on my life, and now is not the place where I will go into very much detail on it, but my love of music and the way I consume it can be directly traced back to those two CDs.

My world opened up after that, and I remember saving up my meager weekly allowance to have my mom drive me to the used CD store and buy whatever albums looked interesting to me, or which came highly recommended from friends who were more musically aware than I was. I would spend a lot of time looking for the best deals to get the most bang for my buck, and then spend my free time after school holed up in my room just listening to CDs on my stereo, enjoying the simple act of hearing something I had never heard before.

As I got older my collection grew, and over time it became a huge source of pride for me — something I had that few other people did. As my musical vocabulary expanded I came to take a very specific joy in finding albums and artists that none of my friends knew about. Once I got a job and was able to drive I spent a lot of time at the used CD store — I knew that place inside and out, and I would often visit weekly if not more frequently than that. I came to love the hunt — and still do. The thrill of finding a CD that you’ve been searching for off and on for a long time — months, sometimes years — still makes scouring that store (and others, like Half-Price Books) worth it to me. Although any CD you could want is often easily available with the click of a button on Amazon or Half.com, I still tend to do my CD searching in brick-and-mortar stores, while they’re still around.

At last count (which would be the night before I’m writing this), I have 1,001 CDs (assuming I didn’t miscount, which is a distinct possibility/likelihood). This is the bounty of about 15 years’ worth of work and searching and money spent, and while I’ve gotten a fair amount of good-natured ridicule for spending my money on a medium that is, for all intents and purposes, outdated and pointless in the 21st century, I don’t intend on stopping anytime soon.

All that said, I’ve realized that, over the years, the collection as a whole has become more important to me than the actual contents. It’s gotten to the point where I will purchase CDs simply because they’re cheap and I might like them when I listen to them someday, and the excitement of actually hearing the music has taken a backseat to the excitement of adding one more piece to my collection. I thus have put off listening to many of my albums for years, and they’ve become forgotten and neglected. This is not only ultimately a waste of money, but devalues the collection as a thing to be enjoyed.

I decided to go through my collection and build a list of all the CDs that I either have never listened to or listened to only partway and don’t remember anything about. To my horror, I counted 231 albums — almost a quarter of my entire collection! I’ve decided to remedy this, by listening through each and every album on this list of rejects, in full. I want to document this journey, so I’ll also be writing about each album immediately after I finish listening to it, although to save myself (and you) from my verbosity I’ll be making an effort to be as brief as possible — only a couple sentences, ideally, with each album (although I’m sure I’ll fail here and there). [Edit after finishing writing this first post: I failed hard.]

I have no idea how long this will take me. I know for a fact that many of the albums on this list — maybe even most — I will not particularly enjoy. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised over and over again but I have no illusions about the quality of a lot of albums on here. As a result, I may reach dead spots that take me a while to get through simply because I need to take a break from listening to stuff I don’t like. I’m going to post my progress every time I get through ~25 albums, which means this will be a series of nine posts (give or take). This could take a couple months, or it could take a year or more. I don’t know, but it’ll be a (hopefully) entertaining ride.

Anyway, this has gotten too long already, so I’ll wrap up the intro by noting a couple other quick things: I’ll be going through this list in alphabetical order by artist name, and then in cases where I’ll be listening through multiple albums by the same artist, by album release date. I’ll also note the date I listened to each album or group of albums so I (and you) can track the chronological progression. Do you really care about that? I doubt it, but here we go anyway.

Feb 22, 2017

fast times at barrington highThe Academy Is… – Fast Times At Barrington High (2008)
Stupidly fun, catchy, and energetic pop-punk. This album is basically an idealized version of high school — the high school experience we all wanted — in musical form. I have a soft spot in my heart for this type of music anyway but this takes it to another level. Ironically, this is the kind of thing I would have found too saccharine and dumb in my high school days, but now am able to enjoy simply for its pop sensibilities. Excellent release. — 4.0/5.0

AC/DC – Back In Black (1980)
Never been a fan of AC/DC; I inherited this album from my dad when he decided he didn’t need a bunch of his CDs anymore (prepare for many more in this vein as we go along). This album was okay, I liked it more than I was anticipating, but Classic Rock Radio has more or less killed its explosiveness. Besides that, I’ve never been much for the drugs-sex-rock-and-roll culture that permeates every nook and cranny of this thing, and the blatant misogyny on display with “Give The Dog A Bone” disgusts me on a deep level. Probably will never listen to it again. — 2.5/5.0

Ace Troubleshooter – It’s Never Enough (2004)it's never enough
Once long ago, there were a bunch of CDs available for the taking in my church’s youth room, so I picked this up one day because it looked interesting and proceeded to not really think about it for the next 10+ years. I wasn’t missing a whole lot — generic pop-punk/alternative, although the singer has a surprisingly good voice and the opening two tracks are really, really good, along with the more downtempo “Helen Burns”. I liked this one, all told. — 3.5/5.0

Antony and the Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now (2005)
I don’t mind Antony’s distinctive voice in small doses, but a whole album of it — even a sub-40 minute one — is too much. A few good songs on this one — most notably “Man Is The Baby” and “Fistful of Love” — but not something I will be returning to often, if ever. I much prefer Antony’s work in Hercules and Love Affair (“Blind”, of course, being the quintessential cut) to this. — 3.0/5.0

Feb 23, 2017

reflektorArcade Fire – Reflektor (2013)
I was pretty ready to hate this album — I’m just so over Arcade Fire and their bloated pretension. My enjoyment of their music has steadily declined over the past several years, and I had put off listening to Reflektor for so long because I knew it would be a chore to get through, and I was half right — the first disc is bland, boring, flat rock that did absolutely nothing for me. The second disc though was significantly better, with more of James Murphy’s production taking the spotlight (which is a good thing). Loved the funk on “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, but it was pretty solid all the way through. Still, my opinion on Arcade Fire wasn’t much improved, and I probably won’t be checking out anything more that they release. — 3.0/5.0

Asobi Seksu – Fluorescence (2011)
I picked this album up (along with Hush, which I’ve already listened to) simply because Asobi Seksu CDs always seem to be hard to find, and I really enjoyed Citrus so why not? Plus, I remember that this was cheap, only like $2.00. I looooooooved “Perfect Crystal”, but the rest of the album was immediately forgettable. It’s shimmery, hazy dream pop, the likes of which you can find in countless other similar bands. This is my whole issue with shoegaze/dream pop in general — by nature it’s so intent on making vague soundscapes that it often neglects things like melody and sonic hooks. Citrus was able to inject enough moments of pop clarity to distinguish it from the crowd, but with the exception of “Perfect Crystal”, Fluorescence had nothing similar to offer. — 2.5/5.0

The Ataris – Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…Next 12 Exits (1999)
Blaaahhh…I distinctly remember buying this album while on vacation with my family in high school. For some reason we stopped at a used CD store (probably at my request) and I found this, and knew that it was considered a good album by the type of people who like this kind of music, so I bought it but never actually gave it a listen for whatever reason. In reality it’s just really, really boring pop punk. “San Dimas High School Football Rules” is okay, but honestly this type of music is much better realized in other albums by other bands, not least of which is Fast Times at Barrington High, above. — 2.0/5.0

The Ataris – End Is Forever (2001)end is forever
This was a nostalgia trip…I listened to the first five or six songs on this album often in my high school years, but rarely (if ever) anything beyond that. Despite the stupidly juvenile lyrics (Kris Roe has always been a cringey songwriter, even 16 year-old me recognized that “I guess I’m giving up on love, ’cause it really kind of sucks” is lazy lyricism), I actually enjoyed this album, quite a bit more than Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…, although I have a generally high tolerance for this sappy, sentimental emo stuff so take that as you will. – 3.0/5.0

ATB – Dedicated (2002)
I braced myself for a trudge here, but this was better than expected, although not in a “Hey this is quality music” way, more in an “Oh look at this kitschy turn-of-the-millennium trance” kind of way. Listening to this album made me realize how much electronic music has changed and evolved in the last 15 years, and while it would be easy to write this off as soulless fluff, there is a certain something that kept me listening and enjoying this one through its hour run. I fear the dreaded hipster “I like this in an ironic way” response may be the only way I can justify it, but there seems to be no other explanation. — 3.5/5.0

Feb 24, 2017

audioslaveAudioslave – Audioslave (2002)
Weirdly good. I have fond memories of “Cochise” and “Like A Stone” playing on the radio right when I was starting to pay attention to music. I hate most other things Chris Cornell is involved in (“Black Hole Sun” would be on my shortlist of my least favorite songs ever), but Audioslave, or at least Audioslave as heard on this album, just works. I love the energy — there are some really intense songs on here, and I mean that in a good way. Loses steam in its final third, but overall quite a lot better than I was anticipating. — 3.5/5.0

Beach House – Bloom (2012)
I finished this 10 minutes ago and I can’t recall a single thing about it. Really, really mundane, impressionless dream pop. — 2.0/5.0

Feb 27, 2017

The Beatles – Beatles For Sale (1964)
I’ve heard every other major release by The Beatles, and while I love pretty much everything they’ve done, since I picked up this last, missing piece I haven’t been in much of a Beatles mood so I never gave this a proper listen. It’s pretty much what I expected — solid, but nothing too great. This seems to be the general consensus among most Beatles fans so I don’t feel too bad about it. If I was in the right mood, though, I might like this a bit more than I did today, so I’ll be returning to this at a later date I’m sure. — 3.5/5.0

Mar 1, 2017

Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Very boring to my ears, although I can tell there’s something here worth keeping. It had touches of brilliance here and there, but in general it just didn’t engage me very much. If I’m ever in the mood to listen to this type of music, Sky Blue Sky is and will probably remain my go-to, thank you very much. — 3.0/5.0

Mar 8, 2017

Belle and Sebastian – The BBC Sessions (2008)bbc sessions
I’m a huge Belle and Sebastian fan, so much so that I think I kind of sabotaged some of my enjoyment of this album by having listened to If You’re Feeling Sinister (an album that would easily make my Top 10 of all time if I ever decided to make such a list) so much that the arrangement and specific sound of those songs is completely burned into my brain. Anything that doesn’t sound exactly like I know it sounds on that album is just wrong. But, barring those cuts, this album is quite good — and I much preferred this album’s version of “Sleep The Clock Around” more than the album version, especially surprising as that’s always been one of my favorite B&S songs (and thus at least as sacred as anything off of If You’re Feeling Sinister). Good stuff! — 3.5/5.0

Mar 17, 2017

Better Than Ezra – Deluxe (1993)
There’s plenty more of this ’90s college rock stuff coming up, and I think my reaction to most of it will be about the same as this one: boring, generic, and forgettable. Being almost 30, it’s also now really easy to see through the pretty blatant lyrical pandering on display in songs like “Southern Girl” and “Teenager”. Not a fan. — 2.0/5.0

Better Than Ezra – How Does Your Garden Grow? (1998)
This was loads better than Deluxe, although it felt like a lot of other music, rather than anything unique. This isn’t a bad thing, though; parts of the first track reminded me of something off of Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois…unexpected, but delightful. The second half of “New Kind of Low” sounds like something Radiohead might’ve made around the same time period. Kevin Griffin’s vocals on here are also a lot less obnoxious than on Deluxe. I enjoyed this. — 3.5/5.0

Mar 20, 2017

Big Head Todd and the Monsters – Sister Sweetly (1993)
You know what sounds I don’t miss? Pretty much every kind of sound that can be found on this album. Just look at the cover. You know what kind of music you’re getting into. — 2.0/5.0

Mar 23, 2017

your body above meBlack Lab – Your Body Above Me (1997)
Most of what I said about Audioslave can be applied to this album as well. I really dig this guy’s voice, but the music is pretty generic mid-’90s post-grunge/alt-rock so it struggled to leave any kind of impression. Still, “All The Money In The World” is fantastic — there’s something about the energy in Paul Durham’s delivery of the lyric “SWITCH the children, watch the women scream!” that I can’t really equate to anything else, and that song alone makes this album worth keeping in the back of my mind. — 3.0/5.0

Boysetsfire – After The Eulogy (2000)
Boysetsfire haven’t aged well. I used to be all over Tomorrow Come Today in high school (in fact, I’d say that it was one of the more personally influential albums I listened to at the time), but to my ears now…this band just kind of sounds like a parody of the type of music they’re trying to make. In fact, this is how most blatantly political music sounds to me these days — angry kids who think they know how the world works and want to scream about it. Whether or not the political points BSF makes are valid (not gonna go there), this album at least just comes across awkwardly at the best of times — case in point, the cringey “Where’s you anger? Where’s your f***ing rage?” coda at the end of the first song. I do enjoy “Rookie”, “When Rhetoric Dies”, and “My Life In The Knife Trade”, but the rest of the album is…pretty bad. –2.0/5.0

Brie Larson – Finally Out of P.E. (2005)finally out of pe
I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I bought this CD based off of seeing an AMV that used the song “Life After You”. I’m pretty sure it was a Girl Who Leapt Through Time video, but I can’t, for the LIFE of me, find any evidence that this video exists. It’s not on the .org (there are no videos which use this song listed on there) and I can’t remember the name of the video, or the editor. I would have gotten this CD back in 2006 or 2007ish, and the only way I would ever have bought something like this at the time is because of an AMV. It’s a weird mystery.

Anyway, the album itself is wholly unsurprising, aimed squarely at the female teen “rebel”, with all the baggage and poor songwriting that entails. It’s a lyrically stupid album (see: “Shoebox”), and it feels ridiculously manufactured, but that also means that it has its moments of pop euphoria (see: “Whatever”), and I can appreciate those. I actually enjoyed this album more often than not, but it’s not exactly something I’m going to go parading around that I liked. And the asinine lyrics put a pretty low ceiling on how high I’m willing to rate this. — 2.5/5.0

Mar 24, 2017

face the promiseBob Seger – Face The Promise (2006)
I have to admit, as I was compiling this list, I probably pre-judged this one harder than any other. If the cover art isn’t bad enough (and let’s be honest — it’s pretty bad), then the prospect of listening to a Motor City rocker from the ’70s in his 2006 incarnation certainly wasn’t helping matters. I was pretty happy to be pretty wrong about this one — although this is about as “safe” as this kind of music comes, it’s not at all bad, and man Bob Seger has good pipes for his age. I love his voice. I’ll take it farther and say that this was a shockingly good album, all things considered (not least of all that Kid Rock features on “Real Mean Bottle”, which is also, coincidentally, probably the record’s worst song), and while this type of heartland rock is really hit-or-miss for me with any artist besides Bruce Springsteen, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this one. — 3.5/5.0

Mar 28, 2017

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga (2007)
Solid album. I’ve been a Bright Eyes fan for a while now, and while I do remember listening to this album all the way through once, I don’t remember anything about it. There’s nothing surprising here for someone who’s familiar with Conor Oberst’s work; it feels very safe and comfortable for him, and has that trademark lyrical style where he just keeps stringing out metaphors and imagery, one line after another, pulling from a seemingly bottomless source of clever turns of phrase, all while keeping the music catchy and simple. I like pretty much everything Oberst does and this is no exception; although Bright Eyes’ best output is well in the past, this album makes perfect sense in their discography. — 3.5/5.0

Mar 29, 2017

the riverBruce Springsteen – The River (1980)
Of all the things I’ve inherited from my dad over the years, a love of Bruce Springsteen ranks up there as one of my favorites. I’m a fan of almost everything I’ve heard of Springsteen’s, but this album’s length is always what had put me off from giving it a proper listen. Hearing it now, I definitely enjoyed it, but there’s no denying that it’s a lot to sit through, and it’s not all A-grade material (a sizable portion of the middle just kinda drags, although since it’s Bruce, I’ll still take it over other albums that do the same thing). I can’t be too harsh though, because I was somewhat distracted while listening to a lot of this album, and the stories and vignettes that are woven into Springsteen’s music usually demand one’s full attention to really appreciate. I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt, and look forward to hearing it again. — 4.0/5.0

Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
If anyone were to ask what my favorite Springsteen record were, I’d be torn between Born To Run and Nebraska, so it’s probably no surprise that The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is basically Nebraska pt. 2, found in me a ready ear. I loved this record; Bruce’s stripped-down, intimate approach sounds just as natural as his most explosive and energetic cuts, and it’s rare to find an artist who can so easily fill albums with songs of both styles. Great stuff. — 4.0/5.0

Mar 30, 2017

the risingBruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)
The album starts off really strong — “Lonesome Day” and “Into The Fire” are both fantastic songs, and ends with a trio of equally great songs in “The Rising”, “Paradise”, and “My City of Ruins”, but most of the stuff in between is pretty forgettable. It’s not bad, I just wasn’t captivated by the stories the way I usually am with Bruce’s music. It was also way too long; this could have been pruned quite a bit and it would have made everything better. Unlike most albums I rate 3/5 though, I’ll probably return to this one to give it another chance, because, well, Bruce. — 3.0/5.0

Mar 31, 2017

Bruce Springsteen – Magic (2007)
I may be in the minority here, but I really liked this. It has a slightly more “produced” sound than a lot of the other stuff I’ve heard from Springsteen, but the lyrical content is still strong and unlike The Rising, it doesn’t suffer from being overlong. To me it has a feeling of nostalgic sentimentality that is different from that which resides in other Springsteen albums. I don’t know, at its core it’s a typical Springsteen record, but there just seems to the weight of experience and age behind these songs, which is quite distinct from Bruce’s older work, which tends in the exact opposite direction and channels youthful impulsiveness instead. It’s a different side of an artist I love, and I’m sorry I put this one off for so long. — 4.0/5.0

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise (2010)the promise
This was pretty great, but it’s clearly a B-sides album — lots of stuff that just doesn’t quite feel up to snuff from what is considered by many to be Bruce’s best period (The Promise being a collection of unused songs from Bruce’s recording of Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1977-1978). Still, Bruce off his game in the mid-late ’70s is still miles better than a whooole lot of other artists’ best stuff, so this isn’t exactly a bad thing. It is a double album though, and it’s just a lot to sit through, although I was entertained at pretty much all points. I will also say that I looooooved “Ain’t Good Enough For You” — one of the best Springsteen songs I’ve heard as I’ve been playing catch-up these last few days. — 3.5/5.0

Advertisements
Posted in filling in the gaps | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

genome project journal #4: amv tracker v1.0.0

Well, it’s happened! A lot of what I’ve been working towards for the past 6-7 months has finally come to fruition. I’m excited to introduce AMV Tracker, a program I’ve been writing in that time and which you may remember in its original incarnation as gpGUI. Since I released that back in December, the program has undergone a massive facelift. The source code has basically been entirely rewritten in that time, and while the driving force behind the project was and remains the AMV Genome Project, AMV Tracker is no longer bound to a philosophy that puts the Genome Project at the center of its purpose. In other words, this project has been intentionally expanded to appeal to people who don’t care about the Genome Project but still want to track their AMVs.

Because, that’s what this program has become — a tool for cataloging, rating, and categorizing any AMV you watch. It’s designed to be simple and straightforward, while allowing you to maintain complete control over your database(s) and the information contained within. I wrote this in Python 2.7, using the PyQt4 GUI library, along with xlrd, xlwt, and xlutils for working with the spreadsheets.

Since the alpha release last December, many, many features have been added, and I’ve done my best to make the program as self-explanatory as possible. If it is not immediately obvious what something is/does, you can probably either (a) hover your mouse over it to get a fuller explanation, or (b) click it (if it’s a button) and it will explain its purpose before it does anything. AMV Tracker is a deliberately “safe” program in almost all respects, meaning that it’s going to be really hard to mess anything up without knowing you’re doing so first.

If this sounds the least bit interesting to you, please give it a look! All the details, instructions for use, and a link to the download, can be found here:

https://amvtracker.wordpress.com/

If you decide to check this out, PLEASE do me a favor and leave feedback. I don’t care if it’s a single word like “cool” or a 10-page dissertation on why it sucks, just knowing that people are interested is awesome. I’ll be continuing to develop this further in the coming months, as well; the next planned major update will feature all sorts of statistical analysis tools for analyzing the data contained in your database, but if anyone asks for features, I’m all ears and would be happy to entertain any and all ideas you might have! I really want to move the Genome Project from a one-man operation to include anyone in the community who’s even slightly interested, and this is the next big step in that direction. If you have ideas on how to improve this program, PLEASE tell me!

Thank you for reading, and hopefully also for checking out AMV Tracker!

Posted in amv, genome project journal | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

flying low #13: dive

I’ve had this blog for about two and a half years now. I’ve written about countless AMVs, those known, those unknown, and once about my own videos. For as much as I love AMVs, and writing about AMVs, I have yet to write about a single one that, at the time of my writing about it, I would have considered it amongst my all-time favorites. To be honest, the main thing holding me back is that the very idea of doing so intimidates me; with the exception of two or three videos, none of my “all-time favorite” AMVs would have been released within the last seven years or so. As such, these are videos that have had so much time to sit and grow and (some might say) fester, that they’ve kind of warped themselves into larger-than-life embellishments of themselves. This happens with anything that anyone holds close to themselves — it’s something that becomes immune to criticism, impossible to attack from any angle, always good, never bad.

I’d be lying if I said that nostalgia doesn’t play a huge role in how I feel about these videos as well. As far as AMVs go, perhaps nothing else does more to manipulate my feelings towards a piece — even videos that I may not have liked when I first saw them years ago when I was first getting into the hobby would probably result in feelings of tenderness rather than the merciless critique I can usually throw at such videos when the mood strikes me, were I to watch them now. The emotions that I associate with that time in my life — the excitement, the unlimited potential for creativity, the fondness for all the new geeky friends I was making — flood over me when I watch a lot of these videos, and (I admit) it becomes less about enjoying these videos on their own terms than reliving, at least in part, a time in my life that has become extraordinarily special.

This is part of the reason that I don’t watch these videos very much. And when I say that, I mean it in a very literal sense — I will watch these videos maybe once or twice a year, if that. I don’t want any of these videos to become too tainted with the here and now, because that’s not what I cherish them for. I want their existence in my mind to forever be tied to my freshman dorm room, or my sophomore apartment (much as I hated it), or the cafeteria where, as I served food to other students, I would pass the time by playing these videos over and over again in my head.

So it’s with a certain amount of trepidation that I make this post. For one, the effectiveness of any video that ranks among my favorites is, in most cases, going to be lost on literally anyone but me. When so much of my affection for a video rests on personal experience that simply cannot be shared with someone else, much of that affection will be lost in translation. The sights, the sounds, the smells that I associate with this video — I can’t implant these things in your brain. No matter how well I may describe them, it would be a facsimile of the real thing, and a poor one at that. More importantly, though, because so much of what I love about this video relies on inaccessible sense data, it seems somewhat trite to post anything at all. If I were able to look at this video objectively, would I even like what I saw? Would I want to look at this video objectively, if I could?

Yet I feel drawn to say something. This is a video that, back when the .org was a thing and people cared about their profiles and actually kept them updated, we had these “Top 10” lists embedded in there (I mean, they’re still there, but no one uses them anymore). I proudly put Dive there shortly after I first watched it, and it hasn’t moved since. If you pull up my profile now, Dive is still sitting there, and although I will probably never update that list for the sake of posterity, I don’t know if I could ever move it anyway.

Calling this my “#1 All-Time Favorite AMV Forever” may be a stretch. Actually — yes, it’s a huge stretch, and it’s probably not true. Over the years, various people have asked me what my favorite video of all time is and I’m pretty sure I’ve given each person a different answer. I can be fickle about certain things, AMVs not least of all, and to call any video my “favorite” seems absurd — although if you asked me to list my favorites, I’m sure I could do that pretty easily (you’d have to give me a hard limit though, otherwise I could go on for a while). Asking for one’s favorite AMV would probably get you an answer from most people, but in the same way that asking for one’s favorite color would — and then if you starting asking for their favorite color for different objects — types of clothing for example, or cars — you might get a different response. So with AMVs — what’s my favorite drama AMV? Action? My favorite to watch on a sunny day? On a rainy day? When I want to feel nostalgic? When I want to be uplifted? Every one of those would net a different response from me, and any one of them could probably be counted among my “favorites”.

But anyway — Dive. Okay. Trying to talk about this one is difficult because, despite my earlier objections, I know this is a heavily flawed video, and one that will probably not appeal to a lot of you. It’s long, it doesn’t use anime in a strict sense, and the story is somewhat juvenile (a video game…within a video game). But man, is it epic. The song choice works incredibly well with the footage — car chases, space fights and all, it feels huge and there’s something to be said for that. The climax and post-climax are still, to this day, some of my favorite AMV moments ever — massive adrenaline charges that set off huge chain reactions of emotion in me that have little to nothing to do with the nostalgia I’ve spent so much of this post talking about. It’s not even that anything emotional really happens, it’s just the surge of serotonin that naturally follows an adrenaline rush (don’t take these biological claims as fact, I may or may not have the slightest clue as to what I’m talking about).

I love the way the video flows and moves, the way it reacts to the music and seems to be driving it at the same time. I love the kitchiness of it, the niche approach that these days may seem quaint or even cheesy. I love the detail in the effects work — the text, the animated HUDs, the blue light rays that precede the climax. This is not a video that would be made today, even if you ignore the fact that no one seems to remember that the Xenosaga games ever existed in the first place. It’s either too clever of an idea or too stupid, depending (I suppose) on how you decide to look at it.

But even so, it’s one of my favorites. It’s something that nobody remembers these days (and it was never very popular even when it was released), but that I still — and will always — hold very close to my heart. And while I won’t make a habit of posting these videos which are among my favorites, especially because so many of them rely very heavily on my own sentiment, I am happy to share this one with you, even if you don’t share my enthusiasm for it. It was a time and place thing and yeah, you kinda just had to be there, in my dorm, watching this video for the first time on a bulky, beige, 16″ CRT monitor with the noise of other college kids leaking in through the door and the window the computer was set by. You had to understand the feeling that videos like this were imparting to me at the time, and the overwhelming sense of “rightness” I felt when I did anything AMV-related. Dive is one of those videos that cuts right to the heart of my life as an AMV editor, and it’s not something that fits into a specific mold of what I “like” about AMVs. The two paragraphs above this one tell only a small part of Dive’s impact on me at the time, and even smaller why it continues to be so important. I think, on some level, every AMV fan can relate — even if it’s not with Dive.

Posted in amv, flying low | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

2016 in retrospect: amvs (10 – 1) // editor of the year

10. UnluckyArtist – Blithe and Bonny

Anime: Various
Music: Photay – “No Sass”

AMV editors have, over the years, come up with numerous ways to catch viewers’ eyes and make them stay. These days it would seem expecting someone to sit through more than two minutes of video is asking too much, and it would also seem (if my numbers are to be believed) that videos are getting shorter and shorter each year on average, perhaps as a reaction to this more ADD mindset. As editors, we’ve responded in a number of ways, including slicker editing tricks, lots of technical sleight of hand, and all manner of quick-fix emotional shortcuts to engage the viewer within the first few seconds so that they feel compelled to stay. Others of us have just ignored the urge to appeal to this trend, making videos how we want to make them. But there’s one path to a person’s attention that always seems to work on me, at least — that of appealing to my sense of beauty.

Blithe and Bonny decides to take a leisurely stroll down this road, and it works from the first scene — a rain-flecked window overlays multiple scenes as they blur in and out of focus, before the video latches on to and off of other motifs found throughout Kyoto Animation’s works. Besides the fact that UnluckyArtist is using some of the best-looking series and movies from the past several years, there’s a certain sense of serene and often abstract allure that imbues this video. Much of this can be attributed to UnluckyArtist’s effects work — color manipulation both subtle and blatant, linear and Gaussian blurs used in careful restraint, psychedelic overlays that give the entire video a sense of otherworldliness. Past releases of his have always left me wanting when it comes to effects — UnluckyArtist’s older videos are almost all good at the very least, but most of them are held back by poor or inconsistent integration of stock effects that end up marring what are otherwise sound videos conceptually and from a sync/pacing perspective.

With Blithe and Bonny, though, he seems to have finally cracked it. It is UnluckyArtist’s brilliant application of the effects that make this video what it is — a strangely happy, hallucinatory kind of A/V LSD trip that depends not at all on any kind of emotional reaction from the viewer. Instead, all UnluckyArtist asks is that you take in the colors and the sounds and enjoy the video for what it is: one of the prettiest, most eye-catching AMVs made all year, presented on the canvas of KyoAni’s most beautiful releases.

9. PieandBeer – Polaris

Anime: Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann
Music: Jose Gonzales – “Stay Alive”

I’ve yet to see Gurren-Lagann, and it seems like the consensus amongst a lot of my anime-loving friends is that this is a kind of cardinal sin, something I need to rectify before I do anything else, because it’s apparently a really good anime and I’d really like it and blah blah blah. One of the reasons then that I was so excited after watching this video was that PieandBeer seems to have done all the work for me — watching this video imparts so much emotional energy and narrative force that actually sitting down to watch the series now would probably be redundant. Thanks PieandBeer!

But really, there’s some truth to that — until Polaris was released I’d never seen a TTGL video that communicated anything meaningful to me about the series; in fact, I remember nothing about the others, so little impression did they make. But Polaris is an exception, and I fell in love with this one instantly. I think about my end-of-the-year list year-round — I’m always considering whether or not a video has the potential to be on there, and where it would hypothetically land if it did. Upon finishing this video for the first time I was absolutely certain it would crack my Top 10, and for most of the year I was pretty sure it’d be in my Top 5. This is just a stunning drama piece, so simple and yet so communicative, honest, and heartfelt.

PieandBeer made something really special here that I’ve enjoyed watching again and again — a perfectly told, perfectly synced, perfectly paced story that I feel like I’m able to completely lose myself in each time I watch it, as if I had never lost myself in it the last time I fired it up. I get a lot of flak from various people for the endless praise I heap onto PieandBeer’s work, and for those of you who’ve been around this blog for a while, you may be sick of it too. But it’s not without reason that I love her stuff — she’s able to make these videos that appeal to literally every facet of what I look for when I watch AMVs, consistently, and often without missing a beat. So long as she’s putting out videos like this, you can bet I’ll be writing about them.

8. lolligerjoj – Ghost Audition

Anime: Various (Ghibli)
Music: Floex – “Casanova”, “Ursa Major”, “The Castle”

In a lot of ways, this is the safest video lolligerjoj has released thus far. He set a precedent with Into The Labyrinth, he got artsy and experimental with tan(x), he got ugly and aggressive with GEHIRNSTURMEN, and in each of those videos he was pushing his technical abilities in one direction or another. Him being one of the most influential editors on the scene, then, I’m not lying when I say that as much as I liked Ghost Audition when I first watched it, I was more than a little disappointed to find that it was somewhat familiar territory; there was pretty much nothing in here that couldn’t be found in one or more of lolli’s past videos. The atmosphere, the effects work, even some of the 60 fps sync techniques were all old hat, and while it’s hard to stay on the bleeding edge of trendsetting for long, lolli had bucked my expectations in the past so I wasn’t sure what to expect with his release following last year’s. All I know is that I think I was hoping for something a little more, well, surprising than what we got with Ghost Audition.

And then I realized that thinking that way made me a huge hypocrite given the very thing I had written last year in my review of GEHIRNSTURMEN: “After Into The Labyrinth, I think people felt like they were owed something as good with each successive release.” I realized that I’m not owed anything at all by lolli; he can make what he wants and I can enjoy it or not. I can analyze it up and down and pick apart the reasons this isn’t as groundbreaking as I was hoping but that doesn’t change anything — nor does it make me like the video any more or less.

Because I do like this video; in spite of the fact that I think lolli didn’t push himself from a technical perspective at all with Ghost Audition, I can’t help but feel like this is probably my favorite video of his. It creates a desperately uncertain atmosphere, exploring the joys and anxieties that characterize peoples’ lives, from birth to death. It gets weird from time to time, like most of his work, using lots of trippy color and distortion effects to keep you continuously off-balance as a viewer, syncing to some sounds and not to others, inducing a ragged paranoia that leaves you winded by the end.

As a Ghibli video, this is probably about as far from a traditional Ghibli tribute as you’re likely to get — if it relies on sentiment, that sentiment is completely divorced from the viewer’s feelings about the various sources to be found here. While I think that lolli’s choice to use Ghibli footage as the main sources was a personal one, this is not an homage in the usual sense. Instead he seems to be using sources that may be close to his heart to explore a different concept that is probably also very personal. In that sense this could be a kind of love letter to Ghibli, but written in a language none of us can read. As a critic, trying to unpack lolli’s work is often an exercise in futility, but it’s also what makes watching and talking about his work so much fun, and why I anticipate his releases so much — few editors put as much intentionality into their videos as lolli does, and then lock it so tightly behind abstraction and misdirection…but man, those locks are fun to pick.

7. neko kitkat – The Creationist

Anime: Hinata no Aoshigure
Music: Kerli – “The Creationist”

If you’ve been keeping up with this list, and watching videos in the order that they’re being presented, I’d urge you to cherish this one, because the next few videos get really dark and heavy and while they’re all obviously excellent videos, for the most part you might walk away from them feeling more than a bit drained. So watch this and store the positive energy until you get to the #2 video, which should (hopefully) cheer you up again!

I admit that when I first saw this video as I was judging for 2016’s AWA Pro contest, I was not completely sold on it until about the last third of the video. I can see now that I was totally, 100% wrong as the entire video is ridiculously solid, but in retrospect it’s not hard to see why I thought this way — this video’s climax is the best I saw all year, without a doubt, and the rest of the video just feels kind of plain in comparison. But don’t let that change your expectations going in! This is another story-driven video, like so many others on this list, and neko kitkat does such a phenomenal job of pacing everything in here, from the scene selection to the character development to the beat sync. Although mostly externally synced, which I don’t tend to prefer, this didn’t bother me because it’s so easy to get sucked into this video — all its parts move in such blissful harmony.

But most importantly, this is simply one of the most smile-inducing things I saw all year, helped in no small part by the cuteness of the story and the way it’s told. A song more fitting probably doesn’t exist, nor will it ever, so this video’s existence feels like a kind of serendipitous act of grace that I won’t soon forget, personally. That such optimism exists in video form, especially coming from a year that seems to have been defined by a lot of global turmoil and instability, reminds me of the power that AMVs can have both as a medium for expression and change, even if it’s just to make one person happier for a few minutes.

6. EnQuatre – Paradise Lost

Anime: Shinsekai Yori
Music: Victoria Justice and Max Schneider – “Say Something”

Shinsekai Yori videos tend to all be along similar lines — brooding horror videos that focus on the brutality that’s present in a choice few episodes, while expressly ignoring so much of the larger picture that defines the series. EnQuatre’s Paradise Lost is the first — and thus far, only — video using this source that I’ve seen which actually seems to capture the heart and soul of Shinsekai Yori: that of desolate loneliness.

One of the things that I loved about Shinsekai Yori was the world it built. The series is flawed in many aspects, but the thing that always held true through the series’ ups and downs was that it had a fully realized, fascinating, mysterious world that oozed loneliness and despondency. EnQuatre accurately captures these feelings with his scene selection, focusing in on the main character Saki, and all the friends and things she loses over the course of the series. If you’ve never seen Shinsekai Yori, this will be a confusing video to you — it’s not a narrative as much as it is a collection of moments that help define a feeling, and unfortunately for outsiders many of these moments are highly contextual and won’t mean anything specific. It jumps around to different points in the characters’ lives, seemingly at random, and what narrative thread there might be gets quickly tangled with itself.

These aren’t criticisms; they may have been when I first saw the video, but now I find EnQuatre’s choice to present his video this way an effective vehicle for presenting a concept like this, which is so focused on capturing an emotion. Loneliness breeds despair, and the indiscriminate progression of the scenes in the video makes it come across as a kind of tragic, unordered memory reel; some scenes make sense together, some don’t, but they all center around that single emotion, and at the end of the video you feel the sense of horrible isolation that permeates Saki’s world, even if you don’t fully understand it.

5. Trenzilla – Death In Eden

Anime: Death Billiards // Death Parade
Music: Breaking Benjamin – “Ashes of Eden”

Much like Paradise Lost above, this video will probably not hit you very hard if you’ve not seen Death Parade. But for those who have, this video is a welcome relief from the usual type of Death Parade videos — they tend to more along the lines of this, which while kinda cool in its own way I guess, doesn’t really tap into what makes the series so absolutely worth watching: the characters.

Death In Eden explores the various stories and vignettes that follow the people who flit in and out of the series, giving them the just time and attention they deserve. It’s not a chronological story; it jumps around from character to character and really just delves into their pasts, their tragedies, their accomplishments — basically everything that makes them interesting people. It does this in a really heavy way though, tending to focus more on the most humanizing properties of each person — his or her flaws. In many ways this could be said to be a tragic video — it certainly feels that way — but I don’t know if that’s really the point, much like the anime itself. It’s a video that shows people at their basest, their most vulnerable, and lets you judge for yourself. It’s not an easy video, and it’s not exactly a happy one, but maybe that says more about human nature than anything.

On the editing side of things, this is a super simple video that focuses way more on the feeling and mood of the music than on the cuts and sync choices. Some people may find this off-putting, but I found it relatively easy to get behind, especially considering that this allows Trenzilla time to devote to really diving into these characters and who they are in a way that makes sense with the vibe and words of the song.

This is about as faithful a Death Parade video as I’ve found, and one of the most thought-provoking videos I saw all year. It doesn’t break any new ground or utilize any new techniques, and in fact ignores some of the basic ones that many people might think essential. But it’s all in the name of making something that cuts right to the heart, and in the end, those videos are the ones that stick with you.

4. PieandBeer – Fiat Lux

Anime: Tokyo Godfathers
Music: Sleeping At Last – “Sun”

I knew it was going to happen. I knew it. She did it last year and she did it again this year — releasing a video right before I started publishing my list and throwing everything out of whack. Before this video was released, the order of this list looked a bit different, and I found myself with one extra video to account for (thus the 11 Honorable Mentions — I really wanted to write about all of those videos!). But man, as much trouble as it caused me, I can’t really begrudge PieandBeer for this because what we got as a result was one of the absolute best videos of the year, and probably a video that will go down as one of my all-time favorites, something I will cherish and hold close for years and years to come.

In approach and execution, this video is strikingly similar to Polaris, so I’ll just relax a minute while you go and re-read that review above…okay, done? Fiat Lux demonstrates again the thing that I look for so often and so desperately in AMVs — an easy-to-follow and engaging story. You’re probably sick of reading the 1,000th iteration of that idea by now, because this year has been shockingly good for story-driven AMVs, but it just goes to show how important an element this is, at least for my own enjoyment. Fiat Lux does this incredibly well — so well, in fact, that it could be held up as a kind of gold standard for any other editor attempting to do his or her own drama video. The lessons this video teaches are indispensible.

But it’s also such an un-flashy video, using a source that is not exactly “attractive”…although Satoshi Kon’s works are all really well animated, they tend to take on more realistic qualities, including character design and color palettes, meaning that they’re not necessarily the best material for drawing one’s eye (see: Blithe and Bonny, above). I have to admit that the first time I watched this video, having never seen a Tokyo Godfathers video before and knowing nothing about it, I groaned a little inside upon the instant recognition that comes with Satoshi Kon’s work. But PieandBeer, as she always does, proved that she can take anything I’m skeptical about and turn it into something I can’t get enough of.

3. Tigrin – Stay With Us

Anime: She and Her Cat – Everything Flows
Music: Gotye – “Bronte”

Fair warning: if you are a pet owner, this video will destroy you. I don’t know if before I saw Stay With Us, I’d ever cried from an AMV — but I will shamelessly admit that this one broke me. I’m actually not much of a crier in general, but all the times that I’ve bawled my eyes out the worst have been directly related to my cats dying, so…just know what you’re getting into before you start this video. Make sure you’re not in a public place, that kind of thing.

Stay With Us is a beautiful video not just because it reminds me of my cats who have passed on, but because it’s a wonderful reminder to savor the time I have with my current cat, Kira. It’s a video that fondly remembers all the good things that a pet can bring you — comfort, companionship, unconditional love — that can be so difficult to find elsewhere. It’s a hard video to watch, but oh so worth it for those reasons alone.

The editing on it is completely understated, moving slowly and purposefully, letting you drink in the scenery and place yourself in it. There’s nothing fancy about the video, it’s nothing but cuts and fades, some really tear-jerking lyric sync, and a whole lot of heart. I wish I had more to say about this one because this review feels rather paltry compared to the other videos in my Top 10, but I also feel like this is the video that needs the least explanation or analysis from my end. It’s simply a moving, heart-wrenching video, and little else needs to be said.

2. neko kitkat – Black Water

Anime: Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker
Music: Of Monsters & Men – “Black Water”

It’s hard to properly put into words how much I love this video. It’s a video I never would have expected, given the age of Wind Waker at this point and the fact that it’s not exactly the type of game that lends itself to a music video, the way other games might. And yet I can’t imagine a video using this source being done one iota better — it’s a perfect storm of every element being done at a level that complements every other element in a kind of synergy that’s almost unheard-of.

Even if you’ve never played Wind Waker, you should hopefully be able to get a sense of the story, and if you can’t get a sense of the story, you’ll certainly get wind of the adventurous spirit that distinguishes this game and this series. For this video, neko kitkat took all the best things about the best types of videos — tight editing, emotional presentation, a climax that could destroy the Sun — and washed them in sentimentality and nostalgia, creating a video that, honestly, is worthy of the hyperbole that I’ve already been throwing at it. I don’t know the future, but I know a classic video when I see one, and I don’t know if there’s ever been a video that rocketed to that position faster than Black Water. I want more videos like this, and yet at the same time I recognize that this video’s uniqueness is part of what makes it so special. This is one to savor, boys and girls, and one to keep on your hard drive, and on the cloud, and maybe on a flash drive too just in case the unthinkable happens and the Internet crashes and the video is unable to be obtained online ever again. Stuff like this doesn’t come around very often, so it’s worth cherishing and holding close.

1. Nopy – Sky Journey

Anime: Various
Music: Brookes Brothers – “Daybreak”

Given how much discord and anxiety helped to typify 2016, I wish I could say that my #1 video of the year fed into that in some way — either by giving a voice to all the drama, tragedies, and achievements that marked the year, or by providing some sort of meta-commentary on where we are and where we’re going. Or, barring that, I wish this video said something meaningful about the AMV community at large, or provided some sort of statement about something that would clearly mark this as a defining video of the last 12 months.

It does none of these things. Sky Journey was actually released on the third day of the year in 2016, so it didn’t have much time to formulate language about the ensuing insanity, not that it attempted to make any such statement at all anyway. No, this is not a really singular video, it doesn’t really say much, and it certainly didn’t provoke as much internal dialogue in myself as last year’s #1 video (or even several videos on this list). But, this is actually perfectly okay — a video doesn’t have to do any of these things to be considered my favorite…I have enough videos like that elsewhere.

Sky Journey is a simple video with a simple concept, showing scenes that progress from morning to night and back again, with a focus on scenes that show the sky. You might think it’s stupid, and pointless, but I personally love videos like this, and I wish there were more of them — videos that take a super simple, general concept that doesn’t have any sophisticated narrative structure, and make something really beautiful and poignant with it. Mastamind’s rainfall (on last year’s list) is another video that does this well, as is chibidani’s Miyazaki At Night. I find these videos fascinating in their own way, an intriguing break from more traditional types of AMVs.

Nopy’s video here executes this concept exceedingly well; not only are his scene choices consistent and progressive, they are breathtakingly beautiful. So much of why I love this video lives in the scene selection, which transports the viewer from one beautiful sky scene to another, giving this overwhelming sense of vastness, especially in the latter half when we get to nighttime. It’s a hugely expansive video that revels in grandeur and atmopshere, both in literal and figurative terms.

Not every scene has characters in it; it’s probably about a 50/50 split, but his choices for the scenes that do feature characters are also exceptional. Take, for instance, the shot of Kaori playing her violin against a sea of blue when the strings kick in around 1:30, or the shot of the girl from behind at 2:58 with a huge red moon in the background, or the couple standing on water staring out into the Milky Way at 3:41, or the girl playing the piano at 3:57, among countless others. All these scenes are so fantastical and whimsical and they give the video an ethereal vibe that I have simply never, ever felt before. This goes beyond nostalgia to something deeper in me, something much more responsive but much harder to access. I don’t know if I can put a name to it, but the closest thing I can describe it as would be pure, unfiltered wonder.

This is all aided by the beautiful color schemes, all unedited, but simply chosen well from the pool of anime Nopy uses. Color is such a powerful tool for communicating meaning and feeling, and I think many editors forget this; though some, like Nostromo, use color in brilliant ways to convey purpose and manipulate your feelings, others understand the concept but overdo it. Nopy, whether intentionally or not, creates this world of gorgeous colors that are so in line with the music, it’s hard to properly describe. The feelings this video generates from those colors, those scenes, are nothing like those found in other videos on this list like Fiat Lux or Black Water, but they’re just as valid, and just as powerful.

People who have read all the way through my list may wonder at my choice to put Sky Journey in the #1 slot. It’s just a semi-random, multi-anime nothing video, something thrown together with no real heart or emotion or purpose that serves any kind of deeper meaning. And on most of those points, you may be right, but for myself, this video stuck with me through the year. Every time I watch it, I like it a little more. If I’m feeling anxious or stressed, Sky Journey can settle me down. In an AMV scene that seems to put more and more stock in technical proficiency, Sky Journey is a perfect example of some of the most basic editing techniques that should be mastered before trying anything else. It’s also a reminder that if you get the basics down, you don’t really need to try anything else.

Most importantly though, at least as far as my own personal experience is concerned, Sky Journey was the video I came back to more than any other this year, the video that I looked forward to watching more than any other, the video that stuck in my brain more than any other. Every other video on this list is great, and memorable, and has a worthy place in any 2016 retrospective, but Sky Journey was the video of 2016 for me, bar none, and it’s something that I’m so happy to share with you. I hope you enjoy it even a fraction as much as I do.

===

Editor of the Year: neko kitkat

 
In a perfect world, choosing and Editor of the Year would be a real struggle; internal (perhaps external) arguments, comparing various editors’ videos until my eyes were sore, and agonizing over my final choice until the moment it was posted — that’s a best-case scenario, because it means that we have been treated to a lot of really good stuff by a lot of really good editors. This year, though, there was very little of any of that — in fact, of all the choices I had to make in compiling this list, choosing my Editor of the Year was one of my easiest tasks. This isn’t because other editors were lacking in output, and hopefully the above 41 videos are proof enough of that. No, it’s because neko kitkat outpaced any other editor that had a spitting chance this year. It was no contest.

Regardless, my calling her Editor of the Year is not something I ever thought I’d say. neko kitkat’s been around for a while, and I’m familiar with some of her past work — and it’s never impressed me much. She’s not an editor I ever deliberately kept up with, but it always seemed like whenever I decided to watch something from her, I’d walk away unimpressed. Although one of her videos was on my list last year, that was about the best it had ever gotten for me and she was rarely on my radar as an editor to keep tabs on.

This year, all that changed, and I didn’t even realize it at first — while participating in the blind judging for this year’s AWA Pro contest, I was incredibly underwhelmed with the content, but there were a few videos that I had felt stood out not only compared to the stuff that surrounded them, but as good videos in their own right. It wasn’t until a month or two after judging that the videos could be released, and both of them — The Creationist and Black Water — were revealed to have been edited by neko kitkat. I was shocked, and delighted.

Her output this year has been prolific; although not all of it has been great, if you take a look at her YouTube channel you’ll find a lot of other videos released this year, one of which (Dreamer) was not mentioned on here only because I didn’t see it until I had already solidified this list past the point of wanting to move anything else around…again. But even if the three videos of hers that made it onto my Top 30 were the only ones she had released all year, I doubt my choice would have been any different.

She’s an editor who has been able to demonstrate the importance of storytelling, and the virtues of simple editing with some of the most moving and passionate AMVs released in 2016, by any editor. Her videos displayed her love of the sources, and her ability to communicate them to outsiders in profoundly engaging, meaningful ways. Other editors did this, but none did it better or more consistently, and for these reasons she is my choice for Editor of the Year.

===

Well, here we are, at the end of my yearly retrospective, and standing on the cusp of a new year. I hope you enjoyed reading about and watching these videos as much as I’ve enjoyed breaking them down and gushing over them. It bears repeating that this is one of my favorite things I do each year; you probably got a sense of that given how much I rambled over these last many posts, but ideally you got at least a little something out of it, or discovered something new and cool. If you did bother to read through all this mess, I sincerely thank you, and hope you’ll stick around as I post about other geeky stuff in the coming months.

As promised, I’ll provide a list of all the videos that I thought were good enough for consideration on this list. Just because they weren’t represented here doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching, so if you haven’t had your fill of quality videos, please skim through this list; you might just find something you missed throughout the last year that touches you in a way that it didn’t touch me. (Click here to see the list)

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to a year from now when we’ll do it all again. Have a great 2017!

Posted in amv, retrospect | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

2016 in retrospect: amvs (20 – 11)

20. JHaney1214 – 7 Years

Anime: Various
Music: Lukas Graham – “7 Years”

This is one of those videos where I feel like I don’t have to try and defend it, or even really explain why I think it’s good, as it seems to me like it should be impossible for people not to like it, even if they don’t like the song. But I know that people’s opinions don’t work that way so I’ll do my best here, explaining the obvious emotional pull this video has, the down-to-earth and straightforward editing, the meticulous scene selection that drives a superb story. I love obviously narrative videos like this, at least when they’re done this well, and JHaney1214 does an exquisite job, on top of everything else, of choosing the right anime to match with the various periods of life that the song covers. It’s a lovely montage that explores the different stages of life, and while it wasn’t even the best video that did that this year (!!), it never fails to leave me wistful and a little teary-eyed.

19. qwaqa – Красная Селёдка (Red Herring)

Anime: Evangelion 1.11: You Are [Not] Alone // Evangelion 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance // Evangelion 3.0: You Can [Not] Redo
Music: G.V. Sviridoc – “Time, Forward!”

The thought of talking about most of qwaqa’s work generally fills me with a sense of anxiety; his most popular works, PencilHead and PaperHeart, are masterpieces of creative and technical achievement, so much so that both of them are kind of beyond my comfort zone to properly analyze. While I love both videos, the kind of stuff he does in both of them pushes the boundaries of AMVs into territories that make me uneasy, because of my own personal preferences and what I like to get out of AMVs. Thankfully videos like these are few and far between, but I fear the day when technical prowess is deemed more important than any other quality in the realm of AMV editing, and it seems like we get closer to that singularity every day.

Still, qwaqa’s stuff is always impressive, no matter my feelings on its place in the hobby, and I couldn’t help walking away from this video feeling like qwaqa had outdone himself in every way. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Soviet propaganda (actually there’s no “maybe” about it), or for unique and clever concepts like this, but qwaqa’s entry here stands as one of the best uses of this anime I’ve seen in a long time. There are so many cool things going on in this video in every frame that it begs to be re-watched over and over again to catch them all. There’s even a White Stripes reference! But what glues it all together is the outstanding aesthetic — the color manipulation, the film overlay, the text — that is so excellently realized. This feels like a propaganda video through and through; what’s more, it feels like this is the kind of video NERV would put together if Gendo Ikari were actually a communist dictator. Creating worlds from scratch is something that qwaqa does with his videos, but this is like an alternate history fanfiction in AMV form, and it’s truly jaw-dropping.

18. Glitzer – Singular Strike Gentleman

Anime: One Punch Man
Music: Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now”

One Punch Man understandably received many AMVs to its name this year, but I didn’t watch most of them — they all seemed like they’d be in the same camp of mindless, stupid action and thus not really my cup of tea. The fact that I was asked to beta test this and that this ended up being a finalist at NDK meant that I was bound to see it, even if I never bothered to seek it out — and I’m glad I did, because I doubt I’ll see many other OPM videos that make me smile the same way this one does. It’s a fun video, largely because of the song choice — Queen videos usually fall into this upbeat/light humor camp, so while not unexpected it’s done as well as any of them, and better than most. There’s lots of shrewd lyric sync that, while it doesn’t impart any kind of story or concept, gives the video a delightful cohesion that should keep any viewer interested, if not downright glued to the screen. Equally important is the occasional — but always perfectly-placed — internal sync, which keeps the video moving at a smooth and comfortable pace. And the video’s title is really just the icing on the cake…a simple joke that makes it obvious from the get-go what I’m getting myself into.

I’m usually fairly critical of videos like this — the kind that aim for mass appeal with song and video sources this immediately likable, but every so often it works without feeling generic or trite, and Glitzer gets a pass on this one for editing something so fricking enjoyable.

17. AndysVideos – Satellite Towns.

Anime: Various
Music: Doves – “Black and White Town”

For many of you, this is going to be an odd choice — it’s got poor audio quality, poor video quality a lot of the time (by the way, don’t download this from the .org, the visual quality is atrocious and YouTube is actually better), and when it comes down to it, it’s just a lot of opening/ending scenes, as well as some of the most popular AMV-friendly scenes from the anime it uses. Some people may call this a low-effort video, but for me there is something incredibly charming about it. The super-desaturated color scheme combined with the often-chaotic scene choices (which is in fact helped by the low quality) lends this video a really gritty, claustrophobic look and feel that I haven’t really encountered in other videos, that I can recall. It has this excellent urban finish to it, this feeling of wanting to escape the grimy and mundane into something more extraordinary and meaningful, which is an outlook I identify with in a very personal way. This may be something that simply doesn’t translate to other viewers, so I can understand if you’d walk away from this one feeling nothing for it, but for me this was, kind of like Abogado’s Diamonds, another one of those completely surprising, unexpected videos from 2016 that I feel is way better than most people will likely give it credit for.

16. antaresheart07 – Petaloso

Anime: Noragami // Noragami Aragoto
Music: New Politics – “Harlem”

We didn’t get the super upbeat, boisterous PieandBeer AMVs like Something Fishy!, Oneiro, or Minimum Wage from last year, but in their place we did get Petaloso, so all is forgiven. The editing in this video is top-speed, frenetic but never confusing, making use of equal parts internal and external sync. The video doesn’t really let up — there’s visual motion from beginning to end, and antaresheart07 manages it with all the talent of someone who knows exactly what she wants out of each and every frame. It’s a stupidly fun video, and while she tends to shirk the lyric sync in favor of completely random scene selection, it ends up not mattering much — this is one of those videos that exists to get you engaged in other, more primal means than trying to tell a story. Get on the floor, move your body, get kicked in the face and fly into a wall, that kind of engagement. AMVs like this are plentiful, but many of them fail in one way or another — often they take the process too seriously and end up feeling forced or not energetic enough, but Petaloso does things juuuuust right, managing to hit the moving target and scoring big.

15. SachaValentine – “Pursuit of Happiness”

Anime: Various
Music: David Guetta – “Just One Last Time”

(No YouTube link, sadly, due to a copyright claim on the music track.)

You may not buy into this concept in writing — a drawing of Pikachu coming to life and escaping into the digital world to play with other Pokemon while the girl who drew him gets depressed that he’s gone — but holy cow does it work as an AMV. It’s a silly idea, yes, but the amount of work that went into making this concept come to life in a convincing way is astounding — if you’re not an editor, you may not realize how much of a pain certain scenes would have been to composite. From a technical perspective, this is the kind of stuff I like to see in crossover videos like this, rather than the more “Umika-type” videos that use all sorts of crummy-looking color tone adjustment overlays and particles and light leaks.

This is a very engaging video — SachaValentine uses her (his?) technical abilities to tell a solid story, cheesy as it is. There are some really cool moments throughout the video — newly created settings, clever compositing choices, fun crossover moments — that bring this video to life in a way that videos of this type rarely do for me. I’m usually conscious of when anime are being mixed together, and often I find that it’s completely unnecessary, other than to show off the technical abilities of the editor. Pursuit of Happiness, on the other hand, is a story that couldn’t have existed convincingly in any other way, and that such care went into creating it and making it so easy to buy into makes it one of my favorite crossover videos, and certainly one of the most memorable videos of this last year.

14. falconmtg – Delusionist

Anime: Various
Music: Halsey – “Gasoline”

Speaking of crossover videos, enter Delusionist. This is probably more accurately considered a Madoka Magica video, as that’s the source where most of this video resides, but whatever. As I mentioned in my thoughts on Stinger yesterday, Madoka videos are still good fuel for creativity in new projects, although they have really lost their luster as it’s become such an overused source; it’s to falconmtg’s credit, then, that he not only made something fresh with this source, but did so in a way that plays into the latent psychological undertones that permeate the setting and atmosphere of Madoka.

This is a dark video, with a clear story (at least, it was to me, although the two people I showed it to didn’t seem to get it, so your mileage may vary) profiling Homura, and while there are countless Homura profile videos floating around out there, most of them confine themselves to a story summary or try to ship her with Madoka. Delusionist does something different here, painting her as a mental patient being tested on with drugs. It’s surreal and unsettling in all the best ways, with lurid imagery and a definite sense of descending into a state of madness. It succeeds on all levels, both as a technical exercise (although nothing on the scale of Pursuit of Happiness, above) as well as a conceptual one, and although we were (thankfully) treated to far fewer Madoka videos this year than in the past, it was a welcome addition to this year’s bounty.

13. Moony Moonpie – Lessons I’ve Learned

Anime: The Boy and the Beast
Music: One Republic – “Counting Stars”

I need to explain something real quick here — this video and the next two are all videos I really wanted to be in my Top 10…trying to figure out how to order my list from this point on was an utter nightmare, and for all intents and purposes you can consider videos #13 – #10 essentially tied, if you like, because trying to say I like any one of these better than the other is really difficult for me to do, as the order would probably change depending on the day you asked me. Unfortunately, ranked lists don’t really work in a way that would let me tie a bunch of videos, and it’d feel like a cop-out if I made an exception, so I had to order these somehow.

Hopefully it’ll speak volumes about the videos in my Top 10, but as for this video, it’s just so wonderfully realized that I’m having some difficulty here trying to think of things to add. I’ve seen a couple videos that use this song (which I actually really don’t like), but none of them even come close to this one in terms of making a meaningful song/anime connection. I haven’t seen The Boy and the Beast, but this video pretty much summarizes the entire movie really clearly, so much so that I feel like I wouldn’t miss much by not seeing it (although I still want to). The scene selection manages to follow the lyrics at exactly the right distance — locating the underlying meaning in some of the more literal passages (“No more counting dollars, we’ll be counting stars”) and finding a way to represent it that doesn’t come across as corny or lazy.

This is a high-energy video, although it often forgoes tight sync for story progression, but this never works against it — it locks on to the mood of the song and uses that as its propellant. I can’t fault the video for anything, and I really don’t want to. It’s such a likable video in every regard, and deserves way more recognition than it got. Sometimes I wish I had more visibility in the AMV community, not to promote my own work but so I could get videos like this a wider audience. For lack of that, I’ll do what I can here, and hopefully somehow this video reaches to the ends of the Internet and gets the exposure and love it rightly deserves.

12. Radical_Yue – Nan Desu Kan 2016 AMV Contest Intro

Anime: Various
Music: Trista & Braken – “Far Away”

I was going to explain what this video is, but then I realized I was literally just re-wording the AMV’s title so I won’t patronize you. This video was played before all the contest videos at NDK, and I had thought that a part of the reason I enjoyed this one so much was remembering the experience of seeing it for the first time — sitting in a room with something like 3,000 people (I believe?) and hearing their ecstatic reactions to their favorite anime as they appeared onscreen…there’s just something special about that, you know?

But after I got home from the contest and remembered to re-watch this later, I was surprised to find that I liked it just as much, if not more, than I did when I had seen it in its proper setting. The theme at NDK 2016 was “20 years of anime”, and so this video is basically just an assortment of some of the great anime from the past 20 years. And yes, that’s all it is — but holy crap man, the song, the editing, the sentiment! It all just overflows into a feels trip unlike almost any I saw this year, celebrating anime in a way that makes me not just happy but proud to be a fan. It makes me want to shout and scream and lose myself in the excitement that anime and AMVs can generate. Even though there are many other videos like this, the context of this one, I think, makes a huge difference in how I process it.

But put all that aside and it’s still a step above, with editing tricks that tie scenes together in super neat ways, often through matching the motion of one scene to the next, or the really clever way Yue translates from fullscreen to widescreen (you may not even notice it the first time around!). The pacing and the flow is all so on-point — I love this video so much. I don’t care what you say Yue, because I know you’re reading this — you made one of the best videos of the year, please do it again in 2017.

11. hamstar138 – Fast Forward

Anime: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time // Wolf Children
Music: One Direction – “Story of My Life”

Let me be brutally frank here: This video had literally nothing — and maybe less — going for it when I first skimmed the video information before downloading it. Of all the overused sources that I have lost all enthusiasm for over the years, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is probably in my top 5. And that’s to say nothing of the song, which I couldn’t be more ambivalent about if I tried. This was a recipe for about as generic and throwaway a video as I could imagine, and I went into it with a healthy dose of skepticism and a much unhealthier dose of cynicism.

I came out the other end transformed. This is a video that takes two sources that are incredibly stale in the AMV world and crafts a link between them, making a new story from nothing that is believable and touching in the most pleasantly surprising ways. What’s more, hamstar’s narrative here manages to take key elements from both movies — elements that essentially make these movies what they are — and incorporate them in intelligent ways into her finished product. This isn’t a video that destroys the original works’ intent or takes anything out of context in the name of making something completely new; instead it pays tender homage to both GWLTT and Wolf Children while at the same time telling a powerful, new story originating in hamstar’s imagination.

This video is especially cool to me because hamstar138 is an editor I’ve been keeping tabs on for a while now; until this year she hadn’t really released anything that stuck with me, but over the last couple years I’ve noticed marginal improvement with each release, seeing her potential increase each time, until this last year when she released two phenomenal videos (the other being Pokeversary which is not represented on this list). Getting to experience an editor’s journey firsthand, especially when it culminates in a video like Fast Forward, makes all the slower parts worth it, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

Posted in amv, retrospect | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments